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2010 Election &Fiscal Policy Richard Falknor on 10 Sep 2010 08:15 am

Democrat or GOP Tax Hikes:Pledge Signers Must Vote “No”

Before Tuesday’s Maryland Primary:  Revisiting the No-New-Taxes Pledge

Many Maryland incumbents and challengers are signers of the Americans For Tax Reform (ATR) no-new-taxes pledges for state lawmakers.

Understandably, these politicians often make sure their no-new-taxes pledges are prominently displayed on their websites and campaign literature.

What the Tax Pledge is — and What It Means

ATR’s pledges are foundational fiscal documents:

“In the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases. While ATR has the role of promoting and monitoring the Pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is actually made to a candidate’s constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol. Since the Pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the Pledge. (Underscoring Forum’s.)

Since its rollout with the endorsement of President Reagan in 1986, the pledge has become de rigeur for Republicans seeking office, and is a necessity for Democrats running in Republican districts.”

Here and here are ATR’s lists of Maryland incumbents — and 2010 challengers — who have signed the Maryland state legislator or gubernatorial no-new-taxes pledge.

In 2010, only one Maryland gubernatorial candidate has signed the no-new-taxes pledge, Brian Murphy.  Neither governor Martin O’Malley nor former governor Robert Ehrlich signed.  Nor did Mr. Ehrlich sign the gubernatorial no-new-taxes pledge in 2006 nor in 2002.  Mr. Ehrlich did, however, sign the national no-new-taxes pledge (scroll down to p. 14) when he was in the Congress.  Apparently Mr. Ehrlich’s reported disdain for pledges is situational.

Readers should visit the challenger list up to the last minute on Monday evening before Tuesday’s primary election to be sure they are aware of all Maryland signers. Some may not get posted until the last minute.

What Should Conservatives Ask All Pledge Signers?

First, some background: The 2004 session of the Maryland General Assembly is instructive.  During 2004, then-governor Ehrlich signed or allowed to become law four major tax bills  – – the BRFA, the car tax, the flush tax,  and the corporate (holding company) tax – – amounting to nearly $ 2 billion in tax increases (totaled over over several fiscal years).

During Bob Ehrlich’s tenure as governor, many Republican pledge signers had apparently viewed their no-new-taxes pledge as a means of distinguishing themselves from the wicked Other Team during a long period of Democratic ascendancy in Annapolis. In the minds of some of these signers, however, they were not going to let a campaign slogan designed by outsiders seriously upset the plans of the first Republican governor in decades. After all, it was their Annapolis now!

Only two General Assembly pledge signers — state senators Alex Mooney and Andy Harrishonored their pledge by voting against all four major 2004 tax-hike bills then-governor Ehrlich signed or allowed to become law.

Democratic vs. GOP Tax Hikes

In the 2011 session, at least two scenarios directly affecting elected pledge-signers may take place.

  • Scenario 1. A Republican governor wrestling with an overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly comes up with an “Annapolis compromise” on the budget including tax hikes, possibly disguised as fees.
  • Scenario 2. The Republican leadership of one or both chambers of the General Assembly working with a Democratic governor comes up with an “Annapolis compromise” including tax hikes, possibly disguised as fees.

These compromises will doubtless be sold as the best that can be done in liberal Democratic Maryland: “If  the pledge-signers stir up real trouble and undermine our compromise in the General Assembly, everyone will get even higher taxes!”

Don’t believe it: the pledge signer is obligated to give the next  governor or the signer’s party leadership or both, an answer of “No — go back and stop spending so much, so we don’t have to raise taxes.”

Conservatives should make certain that their favorite candidates who are pledge signers fully understand that. The pledge is not just a no-commitment way for a candidate to say “I sure like lower taxes, don’t you? ”

If the next governor or the Republican party leadership of each chamber, or both, understand that this time, in 2011 all pledge signers will stand firm, the burden of any  “Annapolis compromises” will be far less taxing.

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